Is Harry Reid a racist? It depends on what the meaning of racist is:
If by "racist," you mean somebody who feels antagonism toward black people, then Harry Reid isn't a racist. Harry Reid thinks we are racists.
If by "racist" you mean somebody who would use other people's feelings about race in a purely instrumental way to amass political power, then Harry Reid is a racist.
ADDED: To fight the charge of Type 1 racism, the Democrats are rolling out their Type 2 racism in all its virulence.
AND: Eugene Volokh responds to this post:
Does the term “racist” indeed normally mean “somebody who would use other people’s feelings about race in a purely instrumental way to amass political power”? I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used this way; and while I certainly recognize that words can have multiple standard meanings, I’m skeptical that the second meaning Prof. Althouse suggests is indeed standard.The reason why I put it that way is not because I saw that as a standard meaning. It is intended to express what I think is exactly what Reid was doing. The clause begins with "if." Seen that way, I'm saying: If what Reid did is racist, Reid is a racist.
Now, it's a separate question whether racism should be defined like that. Perhaps a narrow definition of "racist" is desirable. The word is so inflammatory, you might want to reserve it for those who think people of a particular race are inferior and deserve to be treated differently. But maybe our understanding of the word should be refined so that it covers those who use race in other ways that we disapprove of. My post was intended to offer the suggestion that we ought to disapprove of what Reid did with race and for that reason we ought to adopt it as the definition of racist.
Volokh says that if my proffered use of "racist" isn't "standard"...
... then it seems to me a bad idea to try to redefine “racist” this way, because of the substantial possibility that (1) listeners will misunderstand...I disagree. I want to challenge people to think about what is "racist," not save the word for the meanings that have already been established. Let's use it in ways that are useful. And let's talk about and develop the meaning of this powerful word, not just try to make life easy for listeners.
... and (2) will misunderstand in a way that is unfair to Sen. Reid, because it might lead listeners to think that Reid is actually being called a definition-one racist (a normal meaning of “racist”), since that’s a more standard definition.I'm not willing to dumb down the conversation like this. I said quite clearly that Reid wasn't a Type 1 racist. I think there is something else he was doing that was bad, and I'm using a proposed redefinition of the word to inspire critical thought about how bad it is.